Thursday 17 March 2022

Mysteries at the McLean Museum - Children of Greenock

The McLean Museum in Kelly Street, Greenock is part of the Watt Institution.  It is a fascinating place to visit and the front of house staff are lovely and could not be more helpful.  But there are exhibits which puzzle me.  Perhaps it is taken for granted that locals know their local history and that putting description cards beside exhibits would be an insult to their intelligence.  I am not sure what the lack of information in display cases is about, but here is a glaring example.

This lovely artifact is lumped in an exhibit of shipbuilding bits and pieces at the back of the museum.  It is a tribute to the Greenock born poet William Sydney Graham.  (I've written about him before here and here.)  Entitled "The Children of Greenock" (the title of one of Graham's poems) and has lines from the poem around its edges.  

"Her window watched the shipyards sail their men away.  The sparrow sill bent grey over the struck town clocks.  Striking two towns, and fed its flocks."

It is a view of Greenock through a window with ships out on the River Clyde.

However, trying to find any information about this was just about impossible!  There was no little printed card in the display case to explain who W S Graham was or his connection to Greenock.  There was nothing to indicate who had made this work or why it was in a display about local shipbuilding.  I was curious so I asked the lovely lady at the welcome desk if she could tell me a bit more about it.  She was very helpful, but had no knowledge of the work.  She suggested that it would be detailed in their online collection.  A colleague passing by who happened to have a laptop with him was able (after a bit of a wait and after he had opened the case and checked the acquisition number on the frame) to give me details.  It was created by Michael McDonnell (1939-2022) and bought by the Museum in 2002.

Mike McDonnel was born in Greenock and died in January of this year.  He seems to have been a fascinating man and led an extremely interesting life.  He was a doctor and after many years of travel,  spent his latter years in Shetland, creating many art works there.  You must read his full obituary to appreciate what an interesting character he was.  You can also see more of his original work here.  W S Graham, a fellow Greenockian was his favourite poet and that is why he made the piece that was bought by the McLean Museum.  There are other works which he made as a tribute to Graham.  You can see them here.

So, part of the mystery is solved, but I still have a few questions.  Why is there no notice to explain who Graham was or his connection to Greenock?  Why is there no information about Mike McDonnell, the creator of this unusual work and what it represents?

One of the few notices in that actual display case.

The front of house staff at the McLean Museum are wonderful and I just wish that their lives were perhaps made easier by proper explanation of exhibits.

Interestingly, a new exhibit from the McLean's Egyptian Collection had copious printed notes about the pieces on display.  It is just a pity that the same attention to detail is not noticeable in local history exhibits.


  1. That is a stunning piece of artwork

  2. The art work and the artist are fascinating. Could you type up a card and give it to the staff to put with the display, I think visitors would appreciate the info you have gathered.


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